And the parting on the left is now parting on the right ...

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

"I've got a new "Think Again" called "Lies, Justice, and the Punditocracy's 'Place,' " here.

Smart guy, silly column:

In today's Times, Kinsley argues: "In fact, if journalists had a more reasonable view about this, the reporters whom Mr. Libby tried to peddle this story to would have said, 'Look, outing C.I.A. agents is bad and we are not going to help you do it anonymously.' I bet that today, commuted sentence and all, Mr. Libby wishes they had done just that. "

Hello, Michael, all of them did do just that -- all of them except Robert Novak. He alone disgraced the profession and his country, and yet was kept on by both The Washington Post and CNN until he self-destructed on air. Why imply any different?

History in the news:

I've been reading about the history of liberalism, as you may know, and I came across two quotes this weekend that I think bear some further thought. Here is Sidney Hook, writing about the threat to thought from fascism and communism, but scarily, works just as well with regard to the administration of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and their ideological allies, both in the neoconservative and religious extremist community. The essay is called "The New Failure of Nerve" and was published in Partisan Review in 1943. (Hook, by the way, is considered one of the founding fathers of neoconservatism.)

[There are] roads to a happy land where we can gratify our wishes without risking a veto by stubborn fact. But of the view that every mode of experience gives direct authentic knowledge, it would be more accurate to say that it carries us far beyond the gateways. For in effect, it is a defense of obscurantism. It starts from the assumption that every experience gives us an authentic report of the objective world instead of material for judgment. It makes our viscera an organ of judgment. It justifies violent prejudice in its claims that if only we feel deeply enough about anything, the feeling declares some truth about the object which provokes it. The "truth" is regarded as possessing the same legitimacy as the considered judgment that finds no evidence for the feeling and uncovers its root in a personal aberration. After all is it not the case that every heresy-hunting bigot and hallucinated fanatic is convinced that there is a truth in the feelings, visions and passions that run riot within him? Hitler is not the only one for whom questions of evidence are incidental or impertinent where his feelings are concerned. If the voice of feeling cannot be mistaken, differences would be invitations to battle, the ravings of an insane mind could legitimately claim to be prophecies of things to come. It is not only as a defense against the marginally sane that we need the safeguards of critical scientific method. Every vested interest in social life, every inequitable privilege, every "truth" promulgated as a national, class or racial truth, likewise denies the competence of scientific inquiry to evaluate its claims.[i]

And here, sadly, is George McGovern on the floor of the Senate on the occasion of the introduction of the McGovern-Hatfield Amendment that would have ended U.S. military operations in Vietnam by the end of 1970. It failed 55-39, but rings as true today, if you exchange the word "Iraq" for the word "Vietnam."

Every senator in this chamber is partly responsible for sending 50,000 young Americans to an early grave. This chamber reeks of blood. Every Senator here is partly responsible for that human wreckage at Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval and all across our land -- young men without legs, or arms, or genitals, or faces or hopes.

There are not very many of these blasted and broken boys who think this war is a glorious adventure. Do not talk to them about bugging out, or national honor or courage. It does not take any courage at all for a congressman, or a senator, or a president to wrap himself in the flag and say we are staying in Vietnam, because it is not our blood that is being shed. But we are responsible for those young men and their lives and their hopes.

And if we do not end this damnable war those young men will some day curse us for our pitiful willingness to let the Executive carry the burden that the Constitution places on us.

So before we vote, let us ponder the admonition of Edmund Burke, the great parliamentarian of an earlier day: "A contentious man would be cautious how he dealt in blood.[ii]

Repeat Ann Coulter's lies over and over and over: How the Liberal Media does its job, continued, featuring the L.A. Times and Howie Kurtz, here.

The lyrics-in-the-newspaper contest continues: A day after Led Zep in the Journal we get this (thanks, Petey):

"When it comes on a Wednesday, they should just move it to a Thursday or something," Mr. Schwed said. "People don't know what to do. Should I stay or should I go?"

One might say that if he goes, there will be trouble, but if he stays, it will be double.

Happy 75th Birthday to a great American: Victor S. Navasky.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Ben Miller
Hometown: Washington, DC

Mr. Alterman,

In many ways it is a good thing, a very good thing, that there is no heir apparent to President Bush from his administration, no one is a 2008 candidate or possibility. The most obvious being that regardless of who wins in '08, the national nightmare of the Bush Administration will come to a close, leaving only an incomprehensible mess to clean up for whoever comes next.

However, we are also seeing just how dangerous a President and an administration can be when they have nothing to look forward to, nothing to campaign for. More so than ever, they are doing what they want to do without even the slightest bit of care into what the American people think. They don't care about possible political repercussions because for them, there aren't any. There are many examples of this, but the two most obvious are Alberto Gonzales and Scooter Libby. If the Bush Administration had a candidate in the '08 race, would Gonzalez still be Attorney General? Most likely not. And if there was a candidate, would the President have commuted Libby's sentence even though it was going to anger basically the entire country, with the exception of the tiny group left of Bush's most steadfast supporters. The answer to both cases is no.

While I am grateful that 8 years will be all there is of this administration (how it ever got past 4 will astonish me forever), I am extremely frightened of what Bush and co. will do during the remainder of his term when they have nothing to lose and nothing to look forward to.

Name: Thomas Heiden
Hometown: Stratford, CT

Eric,

Once again you have expressed a limited appreciation of Alexander Hamilton over Thomas Jefferson.

Admittedly, Jefferson represents a difficult figure -- he was full of contradictions and less than steady in his views at different times in his life -- but for his writing those immortal words in the preamble to the Declaration, he will always be an hero to me.

Of course, he made other important written contributions to our legacy of freedom as well.

Hamilton, although admittedly a combat veteran of the War of the American Revolution, and, as you have noted, an ardent opponent of slavery when many others who should have been were not, has fatal flaws. He openly stated on the floor of the Constitutional Convention that Great Britain had the best form of government on Earth, and that we would do well to emulate it (excuse me, Alex, but what were you fighting for then?). He was an unapologetic believer in aristocracy. In the end, he did not want to change the British "system," just start a new one in the New World, one which would eventually transcend even what Great Britian had accomplished.

In the end, he was just another Tory. Give me Jefferson any day; at least he believed what the preamble says.

Name: Jeff B.
Hometown: Des Moines, Iowa

I apologize if you've already covered this, but whatever came of the criminal charges against you? And where can we get the "Free Alterman" bumper stickers?

Eric replies: Pending...

Name: Stephanie
Hometown: Tempe

I don't know what I was expecting when I clicked on the Scary Movie link, but it wasn't that. Good grief, you scared the crap out of me with that one!

Name: Steve Gregoropoulos
Hometown: Los Angeles

I'm wanting to hear more of your perspective on Sicko. I saw the movie last night and woke up feeling like the intellectual dishonesty of the picture was possibly severe enough to harm the cause of universal health care (a cause I strongly support by the way). Moore asked on his website for nightmares about healthcare in the US and then, rather than asking for nightmares about healthcare on French, Canadian and British sites and then comparing the responses of the systems to cases where one would be upset enough to write to a website, went after examples of where the systems in the other countries worked. Now: I actually WANT to live under a British/Canadian-style system of healthcare. But why do I feel that if a case was made in a film for a conservative cause (e.g. privatizing Social Security or something like that) using similarly bad methodology, you would have been screaming bloody murder? My point is that I think that good ideas can stand up to clear thinking, and that not only is nobody served by transparent polemics, but fuzzy thinking is a two edged sword (yeah, I know, worst possible metaphor) that is more often used to PROP UP stuff like the HMO system.

Name: MB
Hometown: Jackson, MS

Leaving aside the failings of the Dedman study, it is amusing to me that the right assumes that evidence that most journalists are Democrat is de facto evidence of a leftwing bias. Journalists, if they do their job properly, spend their time examining the world around them in ways few other professions do. If that results in a majority of them considering themselves Democrats, it seems the logical response is to ask oneself (if one has the misfortune to be a rightwinger), "what do they know that I don't?"

Perhaps these journalists are Democrats because the realities they report on push them in that direction. Perhaps they have examined the options and find that the Dems are, at least, more inclined to address the real everyday problems that bedevil our country in ways that benefit the many instead of the few. Perhaps they have been able to set aside popular myths about the American Dream and self sufficiency (in essence, truly stripping themselves of their inbred biases) and see the ways in which the playing field is anything but level.

Just imagine that the vast majority of scientists believed the world was warming as a result of human activity. Surely right-wingers would think to themselves -- "if all these science people believe this science thing, maybe they are right and I should believe it too." That would only be logical. No?

Name: Bob
Hometown: Kansas City

I've not read any recent scriptures from Pat Robertson or James Dobson (or even Fred Barnes) explaining what grievous sins inflamed their god to whip up killer tornados and devastating deluges into the solid Red States of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas this spring and summer.

Sounds like someone has some 'splaining to do. (I'm betting the explanation has to do with all that illegal immigration from our southern border.)

Name: Tom Geraghty
Hometown: Carrboro, NC

I was very sorry to see you repeating several misconceptions, right-wing style, about race and affirmative action in your Guardian piece:

1. Affirmative action "stigmatizes" its beneficiaries and actually promotes racism.

. . . or, as you put it, "myriad personal, psychological and social complications that inevitably arise when people are believed to have been given 'special treatment' owing to their race"

This is one of the oldest conservative canards out there, and one that Adolph Reed swatted away in the June '95 Progressive:

"The notion that affirmative action creates racism is an old chestnut; it has been applied to every initiative undertake in support of racial equality from teenth Amendment to the Brown decision and the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It collapses before the simple fact that widespread racist practices prompted anti-discrimination efforts in the first place."

2. Affirmative action mostly benefits the well off.

Again, Reed:

"Opponents now often claim that affirmative action is ineffective because it mainly benefits the well-off. But studies by Martin Carnoy (in his 1994 book, Faded Dreams) and Jonathan Leonard (in the Review of Economics and Statistics and the Journal of Human Resources) find a significant positive effect of anti-discrimination efforts for ALL skill levels among black Americans. . . . In the academic world, anti-discrimination policies have induced admissions committees to look more closely at pools of students who would earlier have been dismissed out of hand. And affirmative-action guidelines for faculty-hiring practices have been largely responsible for proliferation of open, nationally advertised searches and regularized procedures that break down nepotism and inbreeding."

3. Affirmative action is about righting "wrongdoings of generations past."

Wrong again. Reed:

". . . the purpose of affirmative action is to remove fetters on equality of opportunity by attacking EXISTING patterns of inequality that originate from current discrimination and the cumulative results of past exclusion and discrimination. . . . work, school, and our public spaces are still full of precisely the sorts of exclusionist behavior that civil-rights enforcement seeks to overcome.

Employers and supervisors base their decisions on considerations that include the extent to which they feel comfortable with a given candidate, their sense of how an individual would "fit" in the workplace situation, and on vague feelings and prior assumptions about candidates' general abilities. . . . those assumptions are likely to be influenced by racial or gender stereotypes. Not surprisingly, several studies . . . recently have demonstrated that, when black and white candidates are identically qualified on paper, blacks are likely to be rejected in favor of whites for jobs, housing, even automobile purchases. . . . The benefits accruing from this preferential access to desirable employment, moreover, extend through other aspects of life - from ability to accumulate capital in the form of home ownership and education to, beginning with the New Deal, eligibility for those forms of social welfare targeted to stably employed whites. Employment discrimination intensifies housing inequality, which reinforces unequal access to the political system and public policy, which reinforces unequal access to social resources, which intensifies income inequality, and so on and on."

i.e. racial and class inequalities are inextricably intertwined so that purely class-based approaches (e.g. New Deal social programs) may end up reinforcing race differences.

Oh yes, and let me quote Paul Rockwell on King and affirmative action:

"King supported affirmative action-type programs because he never confused the dream with American reality. As he put it, "A society that has done something special against the Negro for hundreds of years must now do something special for the Negro" to compete on a just and equal basis . . . In a 1965 Playboy interview, King compared affirmative action-style policies to the GI Bill: "Within common law we have ample precedents for special compensatory programs.... And you will remember that America adopted a policy of special treatment for her millions of veterans after the war."

In King's teachings, affirmative action approaches were not "reverse discrimination" or "racial preference." King promoted affirmative action not as preference for race over race (or gender over gender), but as a preference for inclusion, for equal opportunity, for real democracy."

Notes:

[i] Sidney Hook, "The New Failure of Nerve," Partisan Review 10, no. 1 (1943): 2.

[ii] Robert Mann, A Grand Delusion: America's Descent Into Vietnam, Basic Books, 2001, 665.

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